For it's not often that airline passengers are greeted by a smiling executive chef, eager to extol the virtues of the Caribbean island's traditional food and drink and sweep away the traditional seasoned traveller's notion of bland airline fare. But then Louis Bailey, the gourmet face of Jamaica's national airline and one of the island's celebrities in his own right, is an unusual sort of chef. He claims to be the only full-time flyer executive chef employed in the international civil aviation world. And in recent years he has been an important force in the front line of the island's campaign to boost tourism. But many believe Bailey could be an even more powerful weapon ­ spearheading Jamaica's plans to give its food a generic boost in supermarkets in the UK, Canada and the US. After all, he has already worked with several Jamaican food companies including the globally ambitious Grace, Kennedy, and is seen by many as the food industry's "official ambassador in the skies". Although the likeable 45-year-old was born in Jamaica, he grew up in England. After five years at Slough Technical College, he cut his teeth at a string of hotels around Heathrow Airport before moving back to the island and working with Air Jamaica, constantly flying its main UK and US routes. His brief is challenging. The airline has 18 destinations that he must cover once, every three months.Add the fact that as well as attracting new flyers he is also converting many travellers to Jamaican food products and cuisine, and you have the unexpected, significant bonus that many of the island's manufacturers are currently relishing. With his multi-cultural background in mind, Bailey winces at many Brits' images of Jamaican food. While jerk seasoning, for example, has enjoyed a growing trade in UK stores, the chef admits he would like to see the wider diversity of the island's food range put before shoppers. A culinary purist ­ who confesses to hating microwaves ­ he explains: "Too often, for example, British consumers' perception is that jerk seasoning is fiery and hot, almost like an Indian curry. But the reality is that it is spicy and flavourful and we must get that message across to a wider section of the shopping population." As chairman of the island's culinary federation, Bailey strongly advocates an education campaign for British consumers using more trade fairs and instore demonstrations. He also talks enthusiastically about the diversity of Jamaican food: "We need to use all the spices that are available from Jamaica to get away from the hot peppery notion that is in the minds of so many unconverted consumers. We should emphasise the use, for example, of pimiento seeds, thyme and scallion in a blend. People are not going to go to a restaurant just to eat Jamaican patties. And there is only so much you do with a chicken and jerk. "We have a perfect opportunity to educate British consumers. I believe, like many others, that Jamaican cuisine could be the next big thing in Britain, but the challenge is to increase the customers' exposure to the diversity of what we have to offer." Bailey is fulsome in his praise of British supermarkets and their attitudes to stocking ethnic food. Having said that, he admits to being surprised at the prices of some traditional Jamaican products in the UK. "The average Brit cannot always afford some of the prices that are being asked for Jamaican traditional fresh produce when compared to items from India for example. "I know shipping costs can be high, but if some of the prices of exotics were lower, it would encourage shoppers to try something new." n {{FEATURES }}